The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the longest playoff droughts in the NFL. The last time the Buccaneers made it to the postseason, the year was 2007. The only team in the NFL that has waited longer for a shot at the playoffs is the Cleveland Browns, who have not made a playoff appearance since 2002.
The decade-plus playoff drought is a dang long time. Now try waiting even longer to have a double-digit sack leader.
That's the situation the Bucs were in before last season.
Simeon Rice, who recorded 14 sacks for Tampa Bay in 2005, was the player in Tampa Bay to reach the mark until last season when Jason Pierre-Paul broke the drought by recording 12 1/2 sacks. Now that the sack curse has been broken, this season is the second consecutive year the Bucs have a pass rusher tallying double-digit sacks. But it isn't Jason Pierre-Paul, and the total is even higher than JPP's 2018 mark.
Enter Shaq Barrett.
Barrett, who went undrafted in 2014, was a four-year contributor at Colorado State and later attended the East-West Shrine Game during the draft process. During the summer of 2014, Barrett was signed by the Denver Broncos as a practice squad player and later to the Broncos’ 53-man roster but he did not play.
In 2015, Barrett got his first NFL snaps and first sacks. He recorded 5 1/2 sacks in his first year of action opposite star pass rusher Von Miller, but the following three years Barrett never surpassed that initial production.
After the Broncos drafted N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb fifth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, it left Barrett as a rotational player behind Miller and Chubb. When it came time for Barrett to hit free agency, he opted to go elsewhere with a chance of earning a starting role instead of remaining a backup in Denver.
Barrett landed in Tampa Bay on a one-year, $4 million prove-it-type of deal.
And he has.
Barrett now leads the NFL in sacks with 14 1/2, nine through the first four games of the season which has only been done once before in league history.
At first, he was an unknown; he was a player that defenses weren't keying in on. Now, alongside guys like Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea on the inside, Barrett was getting a lot of one-on-ones in pass rush reps.
You could even say dominating.
Once Barrett's name was blasted all over NFL Network, ESPN and social media, he was no longer an afterthought to opposing offensive game plans. Offensive lines started eyeing him and Barrett had to force himself to grow in different ways.
And he did.
Barrett proved as the season went on that he was not a one-trick pony. He wins with initial moves, good burst, fast hands, counter moves and a relentless motor — sometimes all of those things at once. He is proving that those first nine weeks weren't a fluke.
Barrett's price tag will increase in March after a historic season where he will likely lead the NFL (or be close to it) in sacks. There is a chance Barrett will command the kind of money we see from Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Demarcus Lawrence and even his old teammate Miller who are all in the $20 million per year range.
Whatever it is, the Buccaneers can't let go of a young pass rusher — one of the best they have ever had — entering his prime.
Pay the man.